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Political analyst Graham Sell pinpoints what he sees as the rusty and fraying links in the bicycle chain driving South Africa’s socio-economic and political impasse and suggests we quickly fix them or face coming to a dead halt on a very sharp incline. What struck a chord for me is his highlighting the echoes of apartheid in the “unchallenged and blinkered rhetoric that is primarily responsible for cementing the evil of racial stereotyping into our national psyche’’. He tongue-in-cheek announces his contribution as, “and now for something completely different,’’ yet it tragically describes more of the same. The weak, rusty chain links? The lack of defined sanctions for breaching our Constitution as Jacob Zuma has done in defiling his oath of office. Also, we don’t listen to one another. Everyone takes a position, looks for allies and forges ahead, spewing tweets. We don’t hear the voices of the growing jobless army. He talks of the lyrics in Fred Neils’ song “Everybody’s Talking,’’ made famous by the movie Midnight Cowboy – an apt allusion. But what about ‘’Sifun’umsebenzi’ (We Want Work) by Johnny Clegg? His answer is there; a massive education and skills creation program, before our racial obsessions light the unemployment powder keg. – Chris Bateman
By Graham Sell*
Our current crop of politicians have yet to show even the smallest glimmer of the vision needed to take our country forward: EFF leadership can’t think beyond State ownership of everything, a socialist experiment that has failed spectacularly everywhere it has been tried. Their fallback position of promoting racial division indicates they also believe their Marxist/Leninist/Fanonian dogma is not receiving sufficient support from “the masses”, so it is unsurprising they have resorted to this more blatant populist platform. Dali Mpofu’s claim that their refusal to recognise Jacob Zuma is “visionary” also tells us a lot about the EFF’s capacity for original thinking.
The somewhat schizophrenic DA still has to show they can envision solutions that don’t require them to run to court every time they hit a political challenge, and the divisions within their party that also appear to run along racial lines, are again indicative of a lack of visionary leadership. How can we believe they can heal the country when they can’t seem to manage this critical issue within the ranks of their own party?
The clearest signal that South Africa is devoid of visionary leadership came when Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk felt confident enough to re-emerge from relative obscurity to authoritatively tell us what is wrong with the country. Two former Presidents of the Republic taking the leadership vacuum as an opportunity to whitewash their own contributions to the Constitutional mess we find ourselves in today.
While FW fully deserves the plaudits he earned for his display of courage in confronting right wing opposition to a democratic dispensation for South Africa, he spoiled it somewhat by leaving behind a legislatively defective Constitution that provided Jacob Zuma with all the loopholes he needed to capture the State. As for Thabo Mbeki, his perceived arrogance in 2007 was probably the most significant contributing factor towards Jacob Zuma’s rise to the Presidency. Can we really take them seriously?
A few days ago, while I was scrolling through online media posts pursuing a line of research into potential solutions to our current political conundrum, LM Radio played a song titled “Everybody’s Talking”. Written by Fred Neil in 1966, it was made famous by Harry Nilsson when used as a featured song in the 1969 movie “Midnight Cowboy” starring Dustin Hoffman and John Voight.
Stopping what I was doing to listen, it struck me that the opening three lines of the song: “Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying, only the echoes of my mind”, perfectly defines South Africa’s socio-political situation as reflected in mainstream media reports and online social media posts. It also stimulated a thought that perhaps a primary curse of the internet is that we are continually talking “@” each other and not “to” each other. This is especially true of politicians who are so focused on delivering their messages “@” us that they don’t listen, and they don’t listen because they don’t want to hear a contradictory word anyone says. This intellectual affliction is also aligned with a tendency to only respond to the thoughts of like-minded individuals who simply serve to reinforce these messages without question or further debate. As a result, erroneous assumptions often become the entrenched foundation of misguided causes.
The echoes of apartheid also stubbornly reverberate through these interchanges, echoes amplified and sometimes deliberately distorted by those very same politicians who have no vision beyond grabbing the levers of power in 2019. Their unchallenged and blinkered rhetoric is also primarily responsible for cementing the evil of racial stereotyping into our national psyche.
Take a look at social media interchanges between politicians and their followers, or read the comments section of any politically charged article, and the frightening extent of racial stereotyping becomes clear – too many people believing that every White person is wealthy and racist and too many others thinking that every Black person is lazy and stupid. Both sides fomenting an unnecessary societal division based on mutual ignorance of each other’s real-world existence.
The question therefore remains, who can we turn to for visionary leadership and guidance? Where are the leaders who are able to separate the facts from populist fiction for us within the current political and social cacophony?
What is patently clear is that our answers do not lie within the political arena. Another imperative is that we stop talking at each other, and start talking to each other. While we can all identify what the problems are in South Africa, a major difficulty I have with the plethora of calls for a new national dialogue, whether from “yesterday’s men” or newly formed civil organisations, is that they all want to rush straight into discussing solutions without seemingly addressing the underlying causes.
My analytical background makes me want to shout out that bypassing causes and jumping straight into “quick-fix” solutions only results, at best, in temporary relief. Lasting solutions can only come from permanently fixing the cause, or causes of problems. The first step in this process is to admit that problems have generally recognisable causes and, in my view, this is where our politicoholics make their first mistake. They will not admit there are problems with our Constitution, the basic foundation of our society. Many others will also say “What problems? We have the most advanced and admired Constitution in the world”, but look at the following example that uses a simple Problem/Cause/Solution approach, and then please tell me if you still think there are no problems.
Cause: There are no defined penalties for breaching the Constitution. It relies entirely upon the integrity of the individual, or the conscience of Parliament.
Solution: Amend the Constitution to include defined sanctions for breach. As we have not been able to rely on the either the integrity of the individual nor the conscience of parliament, the outcome must be taken out of their hands.
There are other legislative defects that need to be examined but when it comes to Constitutional issues, we could do worse than ask for advice from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and past Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. These two highly ethical individuals will know better than anyone where weaknesses lie in our Constitution.
However, in my opinion, our foremost priority is not only the need to force JZ to step down, it is to put an end to the seemingly endless cycle of poverty that many of our people face every day. It may seem attractive to take my land and redistribute it to the poorest of the poor, or tax me out of existence in order to hand over wads of cash, but if the recipients do not have the necessary education or skills to build on those handouts it will end up being a short-term exercise in futility. Radical Economic Transformation can only ride on the back of an educated and skilled population. So the problem within a problem is that we first need to radically transform the education system and, even if we do this tomorrow, it will still mean waiting at least another two or three generations before any benefits will start to filter through. We simply do not have that amount of time before the powder keg of poverty blows up in all our faces.
It is, therefore, a national imperative that we find innovative ways to bring presently unemployed people into the mainstream economy as quickly as possible while, in parallel, we rebuild the educational and skills programme needed for the future. I will share some ideas of how this might be achieved in a future post as this one is already too long!
In closing, we must keep in the forefront of our minds that we are all South Africans. You owe it to your children and grandchildren to build a prosperous and cohesive society that uses all its talents to ensure that no-one is excluded, or deprived of opportunity. I am really confident that if we bring the politicians to heel, there is sufficient goodwill and talent out there in civil society to make a positive contribution towards rediscovering the lost ethos of our “Rainbow Nation”.
- Graham Sell is author of the anti-PR blog Disconnected Democracy.
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